August 25, 2022 by
Dr. Meredith Niles
There is a critical outcome of the pandemic that doesn’t get its equal share of the spotlight: health and food security. To address this, Dr. Meredith T. Niles of the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences & Food Systems Program in the College of Agriculture & Life Science, University of Vermont has focused her research in this area.
"My most recent research focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on food access, food security and health outcomes, especially in rural regions." - Dr. Meredith Niles.
Her work began in Vermont in March 2020, but then integrated multiple institutions to grow in to NFACT - The National Food Access and COVID Research Team, which currently involves 18 study sites across 15 states in the U.S. She currently serves as Director of NFACT.
Dr. Niles and her team (listed below) conducted a Northern New England survey to understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security, food access, home food production, health behaviors, and health outcomes. The surveys were conducted in the spring of 2022 (April-May) with a total of 1,013 adults (598 in Maine and 415 in Vermont) responding to the survey. Key findings include:
1. The prevalence of food insecurity remains similarly high to early points in the pandemic, likely driven by inflation and food prices, and long-term impacts from the pandemic.
2. The majority (62%) indicated the recent rise in food prices affected their food purchasing, this was significantly higher (90%) for food insecure respondents.
3. 1/3 of respondents utilized food assistance programs in the last 12 months. They reported difficulty traveling to food program offices to apply or recertify as a key challenge.
4. 2/3 of respondents engaged in some kind of home food production (HFP) and half of those did HFP activities for the first time or did existing HFP activities more in the last 12 months.
5. Nearly 1/3 reported weight gain during the COVID-19 pandemic. Food insecure respondents were significantly more likely to report weight gain.
6. Nearly 40% of food insecure respondents ate fewer fruits and vegetables and certain animal products in the last 12 months. These changes are significantly higher than for food secure respondents.
7. Half of the respondents faced a health care challenge in the last 12 months, with canceled appointments and trouble finding a timely appointment being the most commonly reported challenges.
8. More than 50% of respondents indicated anxiety and/or depression, with 17% of those with a diagnosis newly diagnosed in the last 12 months.
9. Compared to food secure respondents, food insecure respondents were significantly more likely to face a variety of health challenges in the last 12 months, including difficulty accessing healthcare, being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, stopping and skipping medications due to cost, and using habit-forming substances.
To access the full report, follow this link.
Ashley C. McCarthy, The University of VermontFollow
Farryl Bertmann, The University of Vermont
Emily H. Belarmino, The University of Vermont
Sam Bliss, University of Vermont
Jennifer Laurent, The University of Vermont
Jonathan Malacarne, University of Maine
Scott Merrill, University of Vermont
Rachel E. Schattman, University of Maine
Kathryn Yerxa, University of Maine
Meredith T. Niles, The University of Vermont